As I celebrated Thanksgiving with my extended family this weekend, eating from a huge spread, sharing updates and stories and generally catching up at a big family gathering, I also thought about the many kids and families Save the Children works with all around the world and right here in the United States. I knew their lives were totally different from my own three kids’ and those of my many nieces and nephews. My sons and my daughter and 25-plus of their cousins have really not experienced need; they have all the food, education and shelter they can use and almost any opportunity open to them. That’s a sharp contrast to millions of children here in the U.S., where nearly 1 in 4 children are now living in poverty and even more of a divide from the 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 per day around the world.
It made me reflect back on the early part of last week, which I spent in Washington, DC. Talk there is all about the deficit, collapse of the Super Committee and how the “automatic” cuts are set to kick in. One of the commonly held sentiments seems to be that now is not the time for the United States to spend anything on aid programs in other countries. Is the only choice really one that trades the future of children in the developing world for kids and families here at home?
The numbers don’t support this “Sophie’s Choice”. The entire foreign operations budget amounts to under one percent of the federal budget. And international development programs, like those focusing on education, health and food security programs for the poorest families through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) account for even less –less than1/2 of a percent of the budget. Cutting these programs drastically, as put forward by some in Congress, would do nothing to budge the deficit. Surely there are better places to cut back than vital programs that ensure kids under 5 don’t die of things like pneumonia and malaria, that children in poor countries like Bangladesh can at least get a 5th grade education, and that children orphaned by AIDS in Africa get local community support to survive.
There is a need for all areas of the budget to make cuts—and the NGO community has made some suggestions that would not result in decreasing support for children and families: in fact, they would reduce costs without reducing aid. Things like allowing purchase of food aid outside the U.S.—local and regional procurement of food aid, or LRP—would save money and lives. A 2009 Government Accounting Office report concluded that the local or regional procurement of food would reduce costs by 25 percent and reduce delivery times from an average of 147 days to 41 days to people who need it. And it puts funds into the hands of poor farmers and shop owners in developing countries, increasing the ability for more families to support themselves. This is just one area where focused cuts would result in no all in aid.
Save the Children and other NGOs have also been strongly supporting an effort across many U.S. Government agencies to make aid more effective. This weekend, Secretary Clinton and a delegation representing many areas of the government and NGOs headed to Busan, South Korea, to continue the push to make aid dollars go further. The U.S. Governments’ new approach focuses on empowering partner countries, while at the same time holding them to account for results for the children and families that aid is meant to help.
There are ways to balance our government budget without hurting poor children and families in the developing world. As an organization that works with poor kids not only internationally but right here in the U.S., we just don’t buy the argument that we should solve our budget problems by taking it out on children. And we think most Americans don’t buy it either. What do you think?